Earlier this month the NFU Mutual reported that the cost of rural theft in the UK in 2013 was estimated to be £44.5 million and in a rural county such as ours this is a very worrying statistic.
Two of the greatest areas of concern in Suffolk are livestock thefts and the theft of agricultural machinery, although there are of course many other rural crimes that cause distress and inconvenience to residents and businesses alike.
In Suffolk, the food and drink industry, agriculture and horticulture contributes over 30 per cent of our economic output so supporting the rural economy and reducing rural crime is a key priority for me.
Rural crime is not just about farming though, recently there has been a spate of opportunist domestic burglary in West Suffolk and the message to all of us is to keep our premises secure at all times. It’s very easy during warm sultry weather to forget to close windows and doors when we go out, but we do all need to be more vigilant and remember not to leave garden tools and machinery outside and visible - prying eyes could be watching. However, we need to keep a sense of proportion; Suffolk is a very safe county. In fact a recent survey shows that in Mid Suffolk 96 per cent of residents feel safe with the average for the whole county being 93 per cent.
Reducing rural crime is a key strand of my Police and Crime plan and to support this we now have two dedicated teams of rural Special Constables, one in the east and one in the west. Many of these volunteers come from the farming industry and therefore have that vital knowledge and understanding of the rural economy and way of life. We’ve also appointed Suffolk’s first dedicated rural crime officer, Pc Mark Bryant, suitably equipped with a Land Rover (see picture) which is kitted out with the latest Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system. This initiative has been very successful in addressing rural crime in Suffolk.
The constabulary is making progress in addressing livestock theft. In Suffolk last year there were eight recorded thefts of pigs with a market value of over £24,000 involving 300 animals; so far this year there have been four incidents with a value of £11,000.
There has been great success with Operation Galileo, a joint operation involving Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire constabularies to combat illegal hare coursing. Last year the number of recorded incidents of hare coursing fell from 300 to 120, which is a tremendous result.
I’m pleased to report that metal theft and heritage crime has reduced recently, helped by the changes in legislation to the scrap metal industry. The problem has not completely disappeared so we must continue to be vigilant. We must continue to help each other by reporting our suspicions to the constabulary – as responsible citizens we all have a moral obligation to do this to help keep Suffolk safe.
Another area of great irritation to me is the curse of fly tipping. We have some of the most spectacular scenery in the country and these ghastly people who think it is okay to dump rubbish need to be caught and punished. To be successful we need a joint approach involving the environment agency, local authorities and the police, supported by yourselves.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the volunteers and industry representatives who provide huge assistance to Suffolk Police by running effective schemes such as Farm Watch, Horse Watch and Neighbourhood Watch. Without the efforts of our volunteers Suffolk would not be as safe and secure as it is – it is typical of Suffolk people to roll up their shirtsleeves and help each other, so please get involved if you can and help us to make Suffolk an even safer place in which to live, work, travel and invest.